Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Make Waivers Fun

It seems to me that the waiver trading period has become a lot less interesting, particularly this season. It *seems* as if every time a player is placed on waivers, we hear about it. Rather than the mystery of which players have been blocked and which are on the open market being out there, the primary drama seems to occur when we find out a player has been claimed, and then we embark on a Johnny Damon watch. This offers myriad opportunities for the player to be bashed for being a loser (another of the many contradictions contained in the oft-expressed desire for player loyalty) and, from my perspective at least, is not interesting or fun.

Perhaps my memory of what the waiver period used to be like is fuzzy; perhaps it is simply that the existence of blogs and Twitter make it much easier to disseminate information on waiver claims within the 48-hour window. In any event, whether MLB could have a more interesting and more efficient way to award waiver claims is much more important than how the waiver period makes me feel. I'm going to assume for the sake of discussion that trade waivers and the waiver deadline are necessary and should not be eliminated (in other words, extending the non-waiver deadline to August 31 isn't an option).

The fundamental issue I have with the system as it stands is that team's claim priority is determined in reverse order of winning percentage. This makes sense when dealing with general waivers throughout the season--it gives the lesser teams the first crack at talent that becomes available. I contend that it does not make sense when dealing with trade waivers. The vast majority of claims during this period are made by contending teams looking to upgrade their roster. Why should the White Sox get the exclusive right to negotiate with the Dodgers for Manny Ramirez just because they have a worse record than the Rays?

This is not a competitive balance issue--the (talent-)rich are going to be getting richer in any event, because it would make no sense for the Orioles or the Pirates to claim Manny. Instead of promoting competitive balance, giving waiver priority to teams with lower W% punishes success.

There are countless different mechanisms by which waiver claims could be prioritized, without going by W%. I'm going to offer several, of which at least two are inspired by fantasy baseball. MLB could stand to learn a thing or two from the reality-hating losers:

1. Increase the price of making a claim

There is a price for an awarded claim, but it's pretty much negligible for a MLB team. That price could be raised, or it could be assessed for any claim, regardless of whether it was fulfilled.

I doubt this would be a very effective remedy, because the danger of being stuck with the remainder of a player's contract is always going to be a greater financial burden than paying the waiver fee. It also does nothing to address the White Sox/Rays issue, in which two teams would legitimately want the same player.

2. Have a claim awarded, go to the back of the line

This is how waivers work in standard Yahoo! fantasy leagues. The initial waiver priority list is established by some algorithm, and from that point on, any team that is awarded a claim drops to the back of the priority list. This makes me think very carefully about whether or not to claim a player I want on waivers, or try to wait until the waiver period is over and he is a free agent. The White Sox supposedly claimed Trevor Hoffman today, but they may not have done so if it would have prevented them from getting Ramirez at a later date.

3. A lottery

Add some randomization into the mix. Give each claiming team an equal chance, or come up with some weighting of W% or place in the standings, etc. Don't allow a team to make get the claim just because they have the worse record.

This is one of the weaker proposals I've offered. Unlike the NBA Draft Lottery, which serves to reduce the incentive to lose on purpose, there is no moral hazard involved in trade waivers. The White Sox have no incentive to lose games and hurt their standing in the pennant race so that they can have the first shot at Manny to make up the ground they chose to give away. Also, conspiracy theorists would have a field day, especially after the first time the Yankees were awarded a claim.

4. Have an auction with fake money

This is the FAAB model from fantasy baseball. Give each team a budget of $100 to use throughout the waiver period. You really want Manny? Bid your full $100, but you're out of luck when other desirables hit the wire. This combines the strategy of the "go to the back of the line" approach with equal access to players throughout the process.

5. Have an auction with real money

This one would never fly, because it would come close to being a player sale, which Mr. Kuhn in his infinite wisdom decided was not in the best interests of baseball. Let the White Sox and the Rays bid on the right to claim Manny. If the White Sox have the high bid, they can attempt to work out a trade which overrides the fee. Or the second-highest bid could be the amount that they would have to pay the Dodgers if Manny wasn't pulled back. Of course, there is any number of possible permutations for any of these suggestions. For the purposes of waiver claims, either auction model would probably work better if they were silent auctions.

I'm not saying that the ideas sketched out here are perfect; I'm sure that creative people could come up with twists that would make them better. I do think that with the exception of the lottery and increased claim price, any of these ideas implemented intelligently would be a fairer way to handle the waiver process and add a lot of intrigue to the process (even if it was only behind the scenes).


  1. 1. No, like you said.
    2. No, unless you take into consideration that the process does not end with the award of the claim. The two teams still need to haggle out a trade in most cases, plus the team can simply pull the claimed player back off of waivers.
    3. Similar to what you are complaining about, plus does MLB really want to have to run 20 to 30concurrent lotteries?
    4/5. Probably the best of your suggestions. Throw them all on an eBay type system.

  2. 2. That's what I was trying to say by "awarded"--the claiming team is actually awarded/trades for the player. It wouldn't count if the waiving team pulled him back.

    3. The way I'm thinking of lotteries, it wouldn't pose much of a logistical problem. It would be very easy to do--just write a computer program and draw random numbers. But yeah, it's not a particularly strong suggestion.


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